22 April 2009

The Art of Matryoshka

Matryoshka are Russian wooden dolls with smaller dolls stacked within the bigger ones. It originated from Sergiev Posad, a beautiful town in Russia, and the first nesting dolls portrayed the colorful people of the town: merchants, monks, pilgrims much like the Damian Domingo illustrations in the Philippines. Often, people mistakenly referred to the Matryoshka as 'babushka' which means grandmother.

In provincial Russia before the revolution, the name Matryona or Matriyosha was a very popular name derived from the Latin root 'mater' which means 'mother'. This name was associated with the image of a mother of a big family who was very healthy and had a portly figure. Subsequently, it became a symbolic name used to describe brightly painted wooden dolls which can be taken apart to reveal smaller dolls inside called Nesting Doll. It symbolizes motherhood and fertility. A mother doll with numerous doll-children perfectly expresses the oldest symbol of human culture.

The first Russian nesting doll turned by Vassily Zviozdochkin was painted by Sergey Maliutin contained 8 pieces starting with a girl with a black rooster, followed by a boy and then another girl and so on, until the last doll revealed a baby wrapped in diaper. All the figures were painted differently by Sergey!

To make children appreciate this beautiful folk art of nesting dolls, I made them capture several of these dolls in our workshop session. The dolls were part of their family collection. The children chose which of these dolls they wanted to draw and color.

For a one-hour session, I make them study the shape and observe the details of the doll (flowers, scrolls, leaves, etc.) which the artist used. Here is a step-by-step way of doing it with kids. Of course, if these kids can do it, so can adults. So everybody can join in this short but fun exercise!

Painting Matryoshka

1. Capture the shape of the doll. Don't worry about distortions and precision. And don't worry about mistakes. I rarely erase them. As long as your lines are light you can easily correct them and cover what you don't like!

2. Now try to copy the details. The face, the hair, the different designs and while you're at it, observe how the artist who painted it creatively assembled the designs and colors well! Again, don't worry about getting the exact details. Make your own interpretation of the designs, its size and layout.

3. Now, try to color the doll. I highly recommend you use watercolor pencils because it is so easy to use, it is not messy, and the colors are brilliant when you paint them later. Another plus points, it is very affordable.

4. You can now correct some flaws and finish the coloring process by darkening areas or mixing them with colors thereby adding dramatic impact to the design. Note, study the colors in the color wheel to help guide you which color would look natural for shading. The color beside the color in the color wheel is the most natural color to use to darken or lighten a color. Example: you can use violet for red or orange to lighten red.

(NOTE: Color Wheel: Red-Orange-Yellow-Green-Blue-Violet and back to Red)

5. And the last and the fun part is to paint the color simply by dipping a brush in water and slowly painting and washing the pencil pigment. Do it one color at a time, making sure the brush is clean and not too wet! Remember you are trying to soften and blend your colors and not erase it!

And here is your Matryoshka painting. As beautiful as the real thing. With practice you can make a bigger one with your own design and your own color combinations capturing the people around you and their culture or way of life. A beautiful documentation of your world and an exciting interpretation of your culture.

A matryoshka is both a sculpture and a painting and a beautiful folk art that is as timeless as any work of art and so much a part of anyone's culture as almost everybody can relate to images and an artist's visual interpretation of it.

The previous post feature the works of children ages 6 to 10 in my one-hour workshop session in Makati.